“[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
On this Resurrection Sunday, it is important that we look at the foundational cornerstone of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death and the grave..
The resurrection of Jesus is central to all Christian belief. The Apostle Paul even went as far as to say,
“[I]f Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (1 Corinthians 15:14-18, NIV 1984).
So let us look at some reasons Christians have for believing in the resurrection:
We begin with the fact that Jesus predicted His own resurrection; over and over again He claimed that He was going to rise from the dead.[i] “Christ Himself, deliberately staked His whole claim to the credit of men upon His resurrection. When asked for a sign He pointed to this sign as His single and sufficient credential.”[ii] If Jesus failed to rise from the dead, His prophecies were untrue, in which case—feel free to discard him as a fool and false prophet—the religious leaders would, of course, have had the right to put a false prophet to death according to the Mosaic Law.[iii] If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead He is completely discredited.
The Apostle Paul knew these very things: “[I]f Christ has not been raised,” he wrote, “we are then found to be false witnesses,” in other words, “We are liars.” The same goes for Jesus, if He did not rise from the dead, He was a liar or a fruitcake.[iv] So was the One who affirmed the commandments by saying, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother” (Luke 18:20) and the One who challenged, “Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin?” (John 8:46), was He Himself a liar? I am reminded of what one of the church fathers wrote: “He who has forbidden us to use any deception can much less be a deceiver himself.”[v] If Jesus was not a liar, then what was He? Some still think they can call him a “good teacher” while disbelieving that He rose from the dead. But “How could Christ be good without being true?” asks Roman Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, and “How could the religion of love… be based on a lie?”[vi] (We will return to this later.)
Now when people speak of Christ being a good teacher, or a person who gave us wonderful moral precepts about loving one another, the place they must get their ideas about Christ from is the Gospels; yet if those same people deny the resurrection of Christ, by postulating that the authors of those Gospels were using myths and allegories, or that the manuscripts were doctored over time, they then succeed in undermining only their own beliefs of who/what they believe Christ to be. “The real Jesus taught about love and justice and caring about the poor and downtrodden… but [according to them] the Gospels are also are filled with myths, pernicious additions, and falsehoods!” Are you kidding me? This is picking through the Gospels as one might pick through fruit at the supermarket: “I’ll take this, but I don’t like the looks of that.” This exposes such people as being subjectivists, relativists, and fools. One must embrace Jesus Christ as risen from the dead or discard Him altogether. Discard the Gospels and the whole New Testament along with Him. After all, “if you lifted out [of the New Testament] every passage to which a reference is made to the Resurrection, you would have a collection of writings so mutilated that what remained could not be understood.”[vii]
Another reason to believe in the resurrection is that Jesus’ predictions about the resurrection were rooted in Old Testament prophecy. For instance: “[Y]ou will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10, NIV 1984). “By oppression and judgment he was taken away…. He was assigned a grave…. For he was cut off from the land of the living…. [Yet]… he will prolong his days…. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life” (Isaiah 53:8-11, NIV 1984).[viii]
Aha, but now the detractors regroup and attack with “the myth of the dying and rising God” which they claim proves Christianity simply “borrowed” its ideas from the pagan religion and mythology. But as C.S. Lewis wrote, responding to such critics,
“[The] truth is that the resemblances tell nothing either for or against the truth of [the resurrection]…. Theology, while saying that a special illumination has been [given] to Christian (and earlier) to Jews, also says there is some divine illumination [given] to all men…. We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story—the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth. And the differences between the Pagan Christs (Balder, Osiris, etc.) and the Christ himself is much what we should expect to find. The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and when. The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately, under a named roman magistrate…. It is the difference between a real event on one hand and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other.”[ix]
G.K. Chesterton would add that the previous myths may be “evidence of the eternal interest of the theme; they are not evidence of anything else…”[x]
These were not myths and fables, and these were not myth writers, as if the disciples and the earliest Christians had this as their intention. Note their very own writings: “For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes” (2 Peter 1:16, NLT). “[I]nstruct certain people not to spread false teachings,” wrote Paul, “nor to occupy themselves with myths” (1 Timothy 1:3-4). In fact Paul wrote several warnings about keeping away from myths.[xi] Again we ask can he “who has forbidden us to use any deception can much less be a deceiver himself”[xii] and “How could the religion of love… be based on a lie?”[xiii]
What further evidences do we have of the resurrection? Well, we have eyewitness evidence and the corroborating evidence from four different sources. Of course, as previously mentioned, modern critics are entirely mistrustful of what is reported by the authors of the biblical accounts, especially of the New Testament. But as the famous legal mind, Simon Greenleaf, put it,
“[R]eversing the ordinary rule… [the] testimony is unjustly presumed to be false, until it is proven to be true. This treatment, moreover, has been applied to them all in a body; and without due regard to the fact that, being independent historians writing at different periods, they are entitled to the support of each other; they have been treated, in the argument, almost as if the New Testament were the entire production, at once, a body of men conspiring by a joint fabrication, to impose a false religion upon the world.”[xiv]
His conclusion was that the “Four Evangelists [the Gospel writers] should be admitted in corroboration of each other, as readily as Josephus and Tacitus, or Polybius and Livy.”[xiv]
So first we have the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, who may have been one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples.[xv] Matthew, of course, gives an account of the resurrection of Jesus in the final chapter of His book.
“So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them, saying, ‘Greetings!’ They came to him, held on to his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there’” (Matthew 28:8-10).
The writer of Mark was most likely John Mark, known by and close to Peter,[xvi] associate minister with Paul on several missionary journeys,[xvii] and cousin of Barnabas.[xviii] Mark also speaks of the resurrection in the final chapter of his book.
“Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7).
Luke, who opens his Gospel by writing, “[S]ince I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you” (Luke 1:3), has been proven trustworthy by archaeologists in his account of times, places, and names. He was also the author of Acts and a traveling companion to Paul.[xix] Luke gives the account of Jesus’ resurrection in the final chapter of his Gospel as well as in the first chapter of the book of Acts.
“There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to [Peter].’ ….While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’” (Luke 24:33-44, NIV 1984).
“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3, NIV 1984).
John, was one of the original Twelve, and a member of Jesus’ inner circle,[xx] one with whom it appears Jesus liked especially.[xxi] John testifies to Jesus’ resurrection in the final chapters of his Gospel as well.
“Now Thomas…, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he replied, ‘Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!’ Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.’ Thomas replied to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:24-29).
These are the foundational reasons Christians believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. These are the reasons that in response to the “Easter” greeting, “He is risen”, we respond, “He is risen indeed!” He is risen in fact and in truth.
In part II of “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ”, I will look at more reasons why Christians believe the resurrection was a factual, historic event.
Click here if you would like to read “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, part 2”.
Click here if you would like to read “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, part 3”.
[i] Matthew 12:39-40, Matt. 16:21, Matt. 20:18-19, Mark 17:9, Mark 9:31, Mark 14:28, Luke 18:33, etc.
[ii] B.B. Warfield as quoted in Evidence for Christianity, Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, copyright 2006 by Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson Publishers, chapter entitled “The Resurrection—Hoax or History,” page 251.
[iii] Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Deut. 18:20-22.
[iv] C.S Lewis, in his classic work Mere Christianity, introduced to us the famous trilemma, that Jesus was either “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” I believe he was building upon some ideas G.K. Chesterton introduced in The Everlasting Man, where Chesterton wrote, “Normally speaking, the greater a man is, the less likely he is to make the very greatest claim. Outside the unique case we are considering, the only kind of man who ever does make that kind of claim is a very small man… a self-centered monomaniac” (G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, Ignatius Press, reprint 1993, 2008, chapter entitled “The Strangest Story Ever Heard,” page 202).
[vii] Wilbur Smith as quoted in Evidence for Christianity, Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, copyright 2006 by Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson Publishers, chapter entitled “The Resurrection—Hoax or History,” page 249.
[viii] See an interesting YouTube video entitled “The Forbidden Chapter in the Tanakh” where Jews in Israel are introduced to Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah and say that it is obviously about Jesus, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgEmbZk7YHw
[xi] Besides 1 Timothy 1:3-4, see 1 Timothy 4:7, 2 Timothy 4:4, and Titus 1:14.
[xii] There is some question of authorship, but this line is found in what is known as The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, verse 27.
[xiv] Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists, The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, copyright 1995, Kregel Classics, chapter entitled “An Examination of the Testimony of the Evangelists,” page 30.
[xv] Matthew 9:9-10, Luke 6:15.
[xvi] Acts 12:12, 1 Peter 5:13.
[xvii] Acts 12:25, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24.
[xviii] Acts 15:37-39, Colossians 4:10.
[xix] Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24.
[xx] Matthew 17:1, Mark 5:37, Mark 14:33, Luke 8:51
[xxi] John 13:23, John 19:26, etc.